Deborah Bowie
President and CEO, United Way of North Central Florida

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been nearly four years since I relocated to Gainesville, Florida. It was April 2013 when I was recruited to help re-build the business development and membership division of the Gainesville area Chamber of Commerce. A 10-year veteran of the chamber industry, having served as a vice president and registered lobbyist for chambers in Alabama and Georgia, moving to Gainesville was an opportunity come back home to the state where I was born and raised.

I graduated high school in Miami, FL, back when no one referred to the area as South Florida. A lot about the state had changed since then, and frankly, so much in my life had as well. Today, I am a mother to triplets, one of whom is severely autistic and non-verbal, so choosing a place to contribute to professionally had taken a back seat to finding a community with a strong public school system, an environmentally-conscious landscape and an inclusive environment for my son. I still remember my first visit here – I met with the chamber team, walked the downtown sector and took a whirlwind windshield tour of the region’s biotechnology corridor in Alachua. It was impressive, but before I could commit, I needed to check with the University of Florida and the region’s resources for people living with disabilities.

What I learned said more about Gainesville than any recruiter ever could – the region was full of promise, opportunity and hope. I accepted the job offer, and today my son attends an autism school, my girls attend a high-performing public elementary school, and I even switched careers to do something that is so meaningful, it doesn’t feel like work. I am the president and chief executive officer of the United Way of North Central Florida, a six-county charitable giving organization that is laser focused on fighting for the health, education and financial stability of every person in our community.

The UWNCFL serves six counties in the region, including Alachua, Bradford, Dixie, Gilchrist, Levy and Union counties. Last year, our economic impact to the region exceeded $11 million dollars. We fund more than 30 programs at local agencies in the region that are doing amazing things to help improve lives.

In 2017, the agency will celebrate its 60th year in existence, and have raised nearly $100 million dollars! I am so proud of the legacy the organization has built in the Greater Gainesville region. There is an industry saying that to change lives, we must #LiveUnited. That means connecting with people on every level to help them realize their greatest potential and to serve the places in their lives where they need help most. I understand that need intimately because when I moved to Gainesville, I needed more than just a place to work – I needed a community to call home. Whatever brought you to Gainesville – welcome! You just found the greatest place to live, work and serve on earth!

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